20/12/2010 17:17 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Where Have All The Male Primary School Teachers Gone?

Where have all the male teachers gone? New figures have revealed how female-dominated school staffrooms have become, with a quarter of all primary schools in England having no male teachers at all. The statistics from the General Teaching Council show that just 25 per cent of teachers in England are men, with the overwhelming majority working in secondary schools and further education. Ten years ago, men made up four in ten teachers, so what's changed? There has been much talk about the decline in status of the teaching profession as a whole and sadly research bears out that the more female-dominated a profession becomes, the less well paid and attractive it is to workers generally.

But this is part of a wider problem. The fact is that, unfortunately, the dearth of men working with very young children is not limited to schools. Shockingly, the figures also reveal that there are only 44 men working in state-run nurseries in the whole of England. As the newspapers this week have been all too eager to point out, this means that many children will have little or no contact with an adult male role model before they reach secondary school.

It seems to me that two major things are at play here. One is that the care of young children is still seen as almost exclusively the responsibility of women, whether inside or outside the home. Yes, women have greater status than ever in the workplace, but those who work and have children are still expected to make all the arrangements for the care of their little darlings – and to be the ones who put their jobs second when parental duties call during working hours.

The other is our society's ongoing obsession with paedophilia. An awareness of the risk of harm coming to our children from these kinds of predators is healthy – though it is worth remembering that research shows that such harm is more likely to come from those known to us than from strangers outside the home. What is not healthy is when this concern morphs into fear and suspicion of all men who come into contact with children.

Only last night a friend was telling me about the negative reactions of other parents to the one man who works at her two-year-old son's nursery. On seeing him offering a comforting hug to one of the toddlers in his care – something that would pass unnoticed from a female member of staff – one of the other mothers described his behaviour as "highly inappropriate".

These attitudes can't help but influence the choices men make about the kind of work they want to do. Jamie Wilson, from Merseyside – who at 23 is the only man under 25 in England to work in a state-run nursery – told BBC Radio Four's Woman's Hour programme this week that his friends laughed when he told them about his career plans. When the message "bringing up children is women's work" is combined with "men who work with children are suspect", is it any wonder that so few men choose to work with under-11s?

By: Laura Smith